Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: Making The San Fernando Valley



I am late in blogging this but I had purchased a book called Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege by Laura R. Barraclough last year which was published on January 1, 2011. I was immediately interested in this book because of the subtitle referencing "white privilege" in addition to the fact that it was about the San Fernando Valley. I thought that title was a joke but it tackles a serious subject that is rarely discussed in demonstrating how the "white man" has essentially controlled real estate in the San Fernando Valley from the 1800s. Furthermore, the segregation of the white class from persons of color has been carefully planned with various amenities such as parks, education, city services are more prominent in the affluent areas compared to the blue collar lower income communities. 

The book description is below:
In the first book-length scholarly study of the San Fernando Valley—home to one-third of the population of Los Angeles—Laura R. Barraclough combines ambitious historical sweep with an on-theground investigation of contemporary life in this iconic western suburb. She is particularly intrigued by the Valley’s many rural elements, such as dirt roads, tack-and-feed stores, horse-keeping districts, citrus groves, and movie ranches. Far from natural or undeveloped spaces, these rural characteristics are, she shows, the result of deliberate urbanplanning decisions that have shaped the Valley over the course of more than a hundred years.
The Valley’s entwined history of urban development and rural preservation has real ramifications today for patterns of racial and class inequality and especially for the evolving meaning of whiteness. Immersing herself in meetings of homeowners’ associations, equestrian organizations, and redistricting committees, Barraclough uncovers the racial biases embedded in rhetoric about “open space” and “western heritage.” The Valley’s urban cowboys enjoy exclusive, semirural landscapes alongside the opportunities afforded by one of the world’s largest cities. Despite this enviable position, they have at their disposal powerful articulations of both white victimization and, with little contradiction, color-blind politics.
Barraclough is a native of the San Fernando Valley growing up in the equestrian community of Shadow Hills. Barraclough makes numerous references to the equestrian way of life in the San Fernando Valley which she claims strengthened and bonded communities, taught children responsibility and accountability, and provided a aura of power and control of their communities to stave off developers who are always looking to build that next set of tract homes and mini-malls. Just thing about where these equestrian communities exist today. Canoga Park (one tiny part near Parthenia), Calabasas, Chatsworth, Hidden Hills, Northridge, Shadow Hills, and Sylmar (did I miss any?). Now compare these areas to places like Arleta, North Hollywood, Pacoima, Reseda, San Fernando, and Van Nuys. There is an obvious distinct difference between these two sets of communities with the "white" dominating one area and minorities dominating the other. 

This book is very thorough and provides a lot of detail. It read like a college text book and I rarely read my college text books so its says a lot that I actually read this book. The only thing I wished this book discussed (maybe in a version 2) is the impact of the housing bubble on the San Fernando Valley as I believe there has been even greater segregation as those with access to credit are easily able to purchase homes. Also, during the bubble, how has the Valley transformed with ranches being demolished to make way for mini-tract homes and mini-malls? What effect has the transformation of industrial centers into apartments and mega stores had on the financial health of the San Fernando Valley. Here is one quote from the book on page 231:
Whiteness in the northeast San Fernando Valley at the beginning of the twenty first century remains persistently but tenuously linked to the rural landscape, within a city where whites are now a numerically declining but structurally privileged minority. Within this context, the historic relationships between the rural landscape, the urban state, real estate developers, and capital are being reworked and redefined, and so too are the meanings and articulations of whiteness. 
Another example of this divide was also written in the Los Angeles Times titled, In Valley, Pace of Change is Fast by Jim Newton on December 20, 2006. 
As close observers of the San Fernando Valley know, today's Valley is itself divided, pricinipally by an east-west split that runs along the 405 Freeway. Moreover, the Valley's divide is widening as its poorer areas grow. The Result: the Valley today is less distinguishable from the rest of Los Angeles, its political and cultural divisions more like those on the other side of the hills. "The Valley is changing," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents much of the area. "There's no question about it -- politically, ethnically, economically."
For most folks who have been living in the Valley for decades, this transformation is nothing new and has been witnessed first hand. The bigger question is where are we headed from the fast growth development days of the 50s and 60s to the exodus of whites in the 80s and 90s to the almost seceded Valley in the 2000s?

I highly recommend this book which provides more detail into "gentlemen farming", movie ranches, celebrity ranches, equestrian communities, and the overall growth of the Valley since the 1800. There is a lot to read here.

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